The strongest indication yet that Michael Schumacher will return to the cockpit next year has been given by none other than Luca di Montezemolo. At a Christmas luncheon this week at the Ferrari factory in Maranello, di Montezemolo revealed that Schumacher had called him to inform him of his plans.
As reported in The Times, regarding the probability that Schumacher would be seen in Mercedes livery next year, di Montezemolo said, “I spoke to him on Wednesday. He phoned me, and he told me that there is a very, very, very strong possibility. Having said that, it is not 100 per cent decided, this is what he said to me.”
Apparently, Schumacher will soon undergo another medical exam to determine if he’s fully recovered from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident earlier this year. There have also been reports that he is scheduled to test a GP2 car in Abu Dhabi during the next few weeks – presumably to assess the fitness of his neck under heavy G-loading. One suspects that his final decision will be contingent upon the results of the exam and the test.
Neither Schumacher nor Mercedes have confirmed or denied that the wheels are in motion to see him partner Nico Rosberg next year. Ross Brawn and Nick Fry have been coy about the prospect, when asked to comment about it most recently; and Mercedes have indicated that it’s unlikely that an announcement will be made prior to the new year.
For their part, Brawn and Fry seem content to let the scenario unfold at its own pace. If Schumacher’s return fizzles yet again, they have a short list of drivers to turn to. First on the list is Nick Heidfeld, apparently. And there are rumblings that Robert Kubica might be looking for a way out of his Renault deal.
That said, it seems that a one year deal with Schumacher (with perhaps an option for a second year) would mesh nicely with Mercedes’ long term plans, if, as current rumors suggest, they’re interested in luring Sebastian Vettel away from Red Bull, either in 2011, in a contract buy-out, or in 2012, when his current deal with Red Bull expires.
At the Maranello luncheon, di Montezemolo went on to discuss his personal feelings regrarding Schumacher’s defection to another team. “As a friend [of his], it is difficult,” he said. “I am happy to see somebody who is so fit and with such a big determination. But, as president of Ferrari, I’m sad because he received a lot from Ferrari and he has given a lot to Ferrari. I think the combination in the good and bad moments was very, very good.”
He also addressed the reaction of the tifosi, the legions of Ferrari fans who have idolized Schumacher since he joined the team in 1996: “Of course, I will have a lot of fans on our website who will be very, very upset. They think Michael is a traitor. But I will explain to them this is not the real Michael, it is another one.”
But di Montezemolo made it clear that he would be able to rise above personal feelings of disappointment: “You must not forget that when you start a collaboration that goes back to August 1995, you are also a friend, so you can agree and you can disagree. But you remain friends because I will never forget what he did for Ferrari and he will never forget what Ferrari did for him, and this is life.”
One thing is clear: di Montezemolo’s remarks are an example of what separates Ferrari from ordinary teams. The Chairman talks as if he were losing a son rather than a mere employee. That kind of family feeling doesn’t exist at the other teams, or at least not nearly to the same extent. One question that Schumacher might be asking himself right now, aside from whether he can be as good as he once was, is whether he can be as happy as he once was at Ferrari.